Recommended on Thursday. Bought Thursday night. Read on Sunday, finished on Monday.
Done and dusted. A new author to follow.
I’m always especially intrigued by books written by physicians, envying them their overachieving capabilities. And look at the author photo on the back flap of the dust jacket. Such boyish good looks, such Mid-West clean-scrubbed open face and twinkling eyes. But his aw-shucks smile looks a bit sheepish. Perhaps because he can almost hear the reader’s disbelieving comment, “Wow, how can such a normal looking guy, a kid’s doc, write such twisted dark stuff!” And he’s a divinity student?!? No way! Just shows to go you, you never can tell…..
The first story, “High Speeds”, was the warning shot. The main character was, in his words, “in fourth grade and fucked up.” And he is. And so are those in the rest of the book. Seriously fucked up and often badly twisted.
“Stab” was the most powerful, a series of intense violent jabs that almost leaves you breathless at the end. It is tenderness in violence as healing.
“A Better Angel” was one of the best, about a bad drug-addicted doc who, overseen by his guardian angel, returns home to look after his dying father. It was funny, it was sad, it was pathetic, it was very human, and the angel can’t do much about that. The idea of an angel hanging around, pointing out prognostic info about people, was great. The doc can’t figure out what his angel has against the young children of his drug pusher, but “she has always done that, pointed out the ones that will grow into car thieves or lottery-fixers or murderers, as if I am supposed to smother them with the great pillow of righteous prevention when they are six months old.”
No one is spared in the world of these short stories, certainly not doctors, and not even saintly hospice workers and child play therapists. Some of those bits are wickedly funny, as in this bit about his dying father’s hospice worker:
“ ‘You have to be ready at any time to have the conversation,’ Janie Finn told me, meaning the conversation where you sorted everything out and said your goodbyes, and the dying person sorted everything out and lost all their regrets. “You talk about things and then you let go,’ she said, making an expansive gesture with her hands, as if she were setting free a bunch of doves or balloons. It was just the sort of thing that hospice people always say, and it’s because they say things like this that I think they should all be put slowly to death, half of them ministering to the others as they expire by deadly injection, having their conversations and dwindling, half by half, until there are only two, and then one, and a little midget comes in and shoots the last one in the face.”
My favourite was “A Child’s Book of Sickness and Death”. The main character is a teenage girl with a chronic gut syndrome who has had to be hospitalised many times over her life, and she is a hardened veteran of the system. And this combined with teenage-dom becomes a toxic mix of cynicism and venomous humour. The ‘cuteness’ of a kid is a currency that has to be used when you have it, and it has to work very hard. “It must extend itself to cover horrors — ostomies and scars and flipper-hands and harelips and agenesis of the eyeballs—“
The ‘tremendous faculty of cuteness generated from some organ deep within’
must cover the extra fingers, the bald spots, the yellow eyes, the bitter, nose-tickling odor of urine. She notes the areas of the kids’ hospital that are always replenished with new toys and new decor, because they get noticed by the rich people. “The nicest rooms are those that once were occupied by a privileged child with a fatal syndrome.”
Not a book for the squeamish, this is about as black as it gets.